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Nosewheels, Everything You Ever Wanted To Know

The good old nose-mounted landing gear doesn’t get much respect. But it should.

Nosewheel

A critical component of an aircraft is its landing gear, which is either in the tricycle or conventional configuration. In addition to the wheels located on either side of the fuselage, known as the main landing gear, just about every plane has either a wheel beneath the nose or one beneath the tail. These aircraft are commonly referred to as nosewheel or tricycle landing gear planes and taildraggers, respectively.

Taildraggers tend to get most of the glory in the aviation world, with many pilots adamantly claiming they are the superior aircraft to fly. However, most modern aircraft have nosewheels. This is primarily because the tricycle landing gear configuration provides better visibility for pilots during taxiing, takeoff and landing and handles better overall than taildraggers, especially in crosswinds. Because of this and nosewheels’ reputation for being incredibly forgiving, the majority of pilots learn how to fly in nosewheels, such as the Cessna 172 or Piper Cherokee. 

So, despite the fact that the tailwheel configuration is known as the “conventional” gear option, these days, it’s really the other way around. 

First Known Nosewheel Design: French Gastambide-Mengin monoplane (Antoinette II), 1908

Actual Number Of Wheels: Four, two in front and two in back

Horsepower: 50

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Furthest Flight: 492 feet

Biggest Advantages Of Nosewheel Aircraft: Greater visibility during taxi, takeoff and landing; less likely than taildraggers to nose-over when braking; better crosswind handling

Downside: Prone to wheelbarrowing

Additional Downside: Loss of street cred from taildragger pilots!

Two Primary Types: Steerable, non-steerable

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How Steerable Works: Ground steering (usually) via rudder pedals controlling nosewheel

Non-Steerable: Ground steering via differential braking

Easiest To Handle While Taxiing: Steerable

Disadvantage: Heavier, more complex system, more maintenance

First Steerable Nosewheel Design: Waterman Whatsit, 1929

Reason It Was Designed: For regular citizens to take off and land from their own street

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Nickname: “Model-T for the Air”

Reason It Was Scrapped: Unstable

When Nosewheels Boomed In Popularity: Post-World War II

Most Produced To-Date: Cessna 172

Total: >44,000

Reason Jet-Powered Aircraft Are Primarily Nosewheels: All of the above, plus it keeps hot jet blasts from damaging runway and taxiway surfaces

Year Commercial Airliners Fully Transitioned To Nosewheels: 1942

Key Advantages: Easier passenger boarding and luggage loading, better visibility for pilots

Last Commercial Taildragger: Douglas DC-3

Total Produced Worldwide: ~16,000

Commercially: 607

Still Regularly Flying As Of 2021: ~170

Reason It Was So Popular: Incredibly reliable

Additional Reason: Fun to fly!

Aircraft Designed To Be Its Nosewheel Replacement For Commercial Flights: Convair CV-240

Commercially Produced: 1,181

Entered Into Service: 1948

Airline: American Airlines

Advantages Over The DC-3: Pressurized, more seating, more powerful engine

Criticisms: Less aesthetically appealing, less reliable, costlier

Longest-Living DC-3 Nosewheel Replacement: Fokker F27 Friendship fleet

Maiden Flight: Nov. 19, 1958

Years Produced: 32

Key Perk Over The DC-3: Quieter, less vibration

Reason: Rolls-Royce engine

Still The Most Popular Commercial Airliner Ever In History: DC-3

Most Mass-Produced: DC-3

Taildragger Pilots Surprised: 0

Interested in more Plane Facts? Learn how much flying costs.

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